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Biography

Elected: 2000, term expires 2018, 3rd term.

Born: September 29, 1942, Miami, FL

Home: Tallahassee, FL

Education: Yale U., B.A. 1965; U. of VA, J.D. 1968

Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1970-79, 1991-94; Legis. asst., FL Gov. Reubin Askew, 1971; Crew member, Space Shuttle Columbia, 1986.

Ethnicity: White/Caucasian

Religion: Episcopalian

Family: Married (Grace H. Cavert) , 2 children

Bill Nelson, who was first elected to the Senate in 2000, is a careful centrist in much the same manner of his former Florida Democratic colleague Bob Graham, showing a willingness to break from his party when he deems its interests diverge from those of his state. He also is catching up to Graham in popularity; he coasted to a third term in 2012, outpolling President Barack Obama in the state.

Nelson grew up in Melbourne, Fla. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father was a lawyer and real estate investor who died when Bill was 14. Nelson likes to recall that his great-grandfather arrived in Florida from Denmark as a stowaway on a ship. From his family home in Rock Point, Nelson could see rockets blast off in the 1950s and 1960s from what is now the Kennedy Space Center. He was active in student government and has always been something of a straight arrow; he doesn’t drink, smoke, or swear. He attended the University of Florida for two years, and then graduated from Yale and the University of Virginia law school. After a two-year hitch in the Army, he returned to Melbourne and briefly practiced law and worked on the staff of Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew. In 1972, at age 30, he was elected to the state House of Representatives.

In 1978, when Republican Rep. Louis Frey retired, Nelson ran for the U.S. House in a district that then included the Space Coast’s Brevard County and most of Orlando’s Orange County. His religious faith and traditional values, his indefatigable campaigning and folksy manner made him popular in an area that was trending Republican. He won the seat 61%-39%; in five succeeding elections, he captured 61% to 73% of the ballots in a district that voted just 29% for Democrat Michael Dukakis in the 1988 presidential race. In the House, he became chairman of the Science Committee’s Space Subcommittee, obviously of prime importance to the district. Nelson not only boosted the space program in every possible way, but also rode the space shuttle Columbia himself, spending six days orbiting the Earth in early 1986. He still reminds people of his sojourn, noting that in space he saw no racial or political divides on Earth, just a single unified planet.

In 1989, with the support of leading Florida Democrats, Nelson set out to run against Republican Gov. Bob Martinez, who was not faring well in polls. But in early 1990, some Democrats became antsy about Nelson’s prospects and persuaded Lawton Chiles, who had retired from the Senate in 1988 after three terms, to run. Chiles was always far ahead in their race and won the September primary 70%-31%. Nelson returned to his 77-acre oceanfront home in Melbourne, his political career seemingly over. But in 1994, he found an opening when state Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher, a Republican, ran for governor. Nelson was elected in November to an office whose full title was treasurer, insurance commissioner, and state fire marshal, and proceeded to compile an activist record.

Nelson’s chance to run for higher office came in March 1999, when Republican Sen. Connie Mack said he would not run for reelection in 2000. Mack’s retirement left a seat up for grabs in a state that, as Election Night 2000 returns would show, was closely divided between the parties. Republicans nominated 20-year, Orlando-based Rep. Bill McCollum, one of the House managers of the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

Washington observers considered the race a contest about the wisdom of the impeachment, but mostly it was a battle of competing styles. Running his fourth statewide race in 10 years, Nelson’s easygoing manner contrasted favorably with McCollum’s stiff and sometimes caustic demeanor. With a long conservative record on abortion rights and gun control, McCollum attempted to moderate his positions, but only succeeded in antagonizing his base supporters. This was the most expensive Florida Senate race to that point, with the two candidates spending more than $15 million between them. Nelson won 51%-46%. He prevailed 60%-37% in the Gold Coast. In the Interstate 4 corridor, which included McCollum’s congressional district and most of the district that Nelson had represented in the House, Nelson won 51%-46%. In the rest of the state, Nelson lost by only 52%-46%, compared with the 55%-42% ratio by which Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore lost there that year. Folksiness and Florida roots counted.

In the Senate, Nelson has become known as a deliberative lawmaker with a moderate-to-liberal voting record, usually siding with his party on major legislation. Some Republicans grouse that he prefers to tackle easy issues to tougher ones. “He is a connoisseur of low-hanging fruit,” Florida Republican strategist J.M. “Mac" Stipanovich told The Tampa Bay Times in 2012. Nelson responds by citing his work against oil drilling and health care, among other issues. But gay-rights groups derided him for his cautiousness in 2012 after Obama declared his support for same-sex marriage: “I believe marriage should be left to the states,” he said. “And Florida voted on same-sex marriage in 2008,” the year voters approved a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Nelson is not especially well known nationally, but his activity on issues directly relevant to segments of Florida’s population—including space, oil drilling, health care, national security, and restoring the Everglades—has raised his profile. He drew attention in May 2012, when former CIA official Jose Rodriguez said in a book that Nelson, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, had volunteered to be waterboarded to see what the controversial interrogation procedure was like. The agency declined. He was named in December 2012 as chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, a panel that has no legislative authority but conducts oversight of issues relevant to senior citizens. He promised to expose financial scams and other abuses of the elderly. In recent years, Nelson has raised concerns about warming relations with Cuba. In March 2009, he and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., held up a $410 billion omnibus spending bill because of provisions that loosened travel and export restrictions with the communist island nation. The pair relented only after Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner assured them in writing that the provisions would have little effect on current law.

Since January 2007, Nelson has been chairman of the Commerce subcommittee with jurisdiction over the space program. After the loss of the space shuttle Columbia, which disintegrated as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere in 2003, killing seven crew members, Nelson called for accelerated development of a reusable space vehicle to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. In 2004, he won passage of an amendment calling on NASA to report to Congress on the costs of extending the space shuttle program beyond 2010. When President Barack Obama took office, Nelson sharply criticized his administration’s commitment to NASA and got a bill through the Senate providing enough money for another space shuttle flight in 2011, jump-starting NASA’s new heavy-lift rocket. He and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, introduced a bill in December 2012 aimed at promoting greater international cooperation on human spaceflight. They got a scaled-down version into a Senate-passed bill that protects commercial space-launch operators against losses beyond what they insure.

Starting in 2005, Nelson worked with Republican colleague Mel Martinez of Florida to block oil and gas exploration in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. After Republican Gov. Charlie Crist came out in favor of offshore drilling in June 2008, Nelson continued to oppose it. Then, in September 2008, Nelson said he would back a bipartisan deal allowing some offshore drilling in the gulf, provided it was limited to 125 miles, rather than 50 miles, from the Florida coast. Then came the massive BP oil spill disaster in 2010. Nelson joined Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., in leading the opposition to expanded drilling along the East Coast and in the Gulf. Over objections from Republicans, Nelson also sought to increase the cap on damages from oil spills from $75 million to $10 billion. To discourage oil drilling in Cuban waters, Nelson and Menendez introduced a bill in November 2011 that would make it easier for Americans to sue foreign polluters for damages.

As a new member of the powerful Finance Committee, Nelson emerged as a player in the 2009-2010 health care debate. He amended an early version of the bill to lessen the impact of cuts to Medicare Advantage, a privatized Medicare program that covers more than 900,000 seniors in Florida. But Republicans castigated it as a backroom deal intended to benefit Florida, and his amendment was killed. He did successfully add an amendment to the Finance version of the bill exempting seniors from a hike in the itemized medical deduction limit from 7.5 % to 10%. Since then, he has defended the law to those seeking its repeal. “Would you like me to repeal the part where you can keep your kid on your family policy until age 26?” he asked an angry constituent at a town hall meeting in August 2012. “Would you like me to repeal that part that says that the insurance company can’t cancel you when you're in the middle of treatment?”

Florida seems to have more than its share of disputes over elections. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Nelson objected vigorously when the Democratic National Committee stripped Florida of its national delegates and urged presidential candidates to boycott the state after the legislature set the state’s primary for January 29 rather than the earliest date permitted by party rules, February 5. He and Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings sued the DNC, but a judge ruled against them. Nelson then pressed for a second primary or a mail-in vote, which the committee refused to pay for, and he argued to have half of the delegates seated, which the DNC ultimately agreed to do.

In June 2005, two-term Republican Rep. Katherine Harris announced she would challenge Nelson. Polling data indicated that Harris’ prominent role as Florida secretary of state during the disputed 2000 presidential election had left her too unpopular to win, but she enjoyed celebrity status among many rank-and-file Republican voters. Efforts to persuade Gov. Jeb Bush, House Speaker Allan Bense, and former Rep. Joe Scarborough to run failed, and Harris became the nominee. She announced she would use $10 million of her own money and wound up spending a third of that amount. Nelson won in a landslide, 60%-38%. He lost in the Panhandle but carried 57 of 67 counties, including Harris’ home county of Sarasota.

Nelson drew another challenger in 2012—Florida Rep. Connie Mack IV, son of the senator who preceded Nelson. Mack won the Republican primary with nearly 60% of the vote. Nelson aggressively depicted Mack as a flawed candidate. The congressman had had several past brushes with the law, usually bar fights, as well as problems paying bills while going through a divorce, all of which figured prominently in Nelson’s ads. Mack responded by painting Nelson as too liberal, but that line of attack failed to gain any traction as Nelson played up his fondness for his home-state colleague, Republican Marco Rubio, a tea party favorite. Though polling in September and early October showed a tight race, Nelson opened up a single-digit lead. He won the endorsements of all of Florida’s major newspapers and sailed to a 55%-42% victory, bolstered by Obama’s 50% showing in the Sunshine State.

Office Contact Information

MAIN OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 716
Washington, DC 20510-0905

MAIN OFFICE

(202) 224-5274

(202) 228-2183

HSOB- Hart Senate Office Building Room 716
Washington, DC 20510-0905

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

Landmark Center Two Suite 410
Orlando, FL 32801-4326

DISTRICT OFFICE

(407) 872-7161

(407) 872-7165

Landmark Center Two Suite 410
Orlando, FL 32801-4326

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

U.S. Courthouse Annex
Tallahassee, FL 32301-7736

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

U.S. Courthouse Annex Suite 208
Tallahassee, FL 32301-7736

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse 4th Floor
Tampa, FL 33602

DISTRICT OFFICE

(813) 225-7040

(813) 225-7050

Sam M. Gibbons Federal Courthouse 4th Floor
Tampa, FL 33602

DISTRICT OFFICE

(954) 693-4851

(954) 693-4862

3416 South University Drive
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33328-2022

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

3416 South University Drive
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33328-2022

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

Justice Center Annex Building Suite 801
Fort Myers, FL 33901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(239) 334-7760

(239) 334-7710

Justice Center Annex Building Suite 801
Fort Myers, FL 33901

DISTRICT OFFICE

(904) 346-4500

(904) 346-4506

1301 Riverplace Boulevard Suite 2010
Jacksonville, FL 32207-9021

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

1301 Riverplace Boulevard Suite 2010
Jacksonville, FL 32207-9021

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

2555 Ponce De Leon Boulevard Suite 610
Coral Gables, FL 33134-6611

DISTRICT OFFICE

(305) 536-5999

(305) 536-5991

2555 Ponce De Leon Boulevard Suite 610
Coral Gables, FL 33134-6611

DISTRICT OFFICE

(850) 942-8415

(850) 942-8450

413 Clematis Street Suite 210
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

DISTRICT OFFICE

(561) 514-0189

(561) 514-4078

413 Clematis Street Suite 210
West Palm Beach, FL 33401

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Staff

Sort by: Interest Name Title

Abortion

Corey Malmgren
Health Legislative Assistant

Agriculture

Abby Tinsley
Legislative Assistant

Erik Kamrath
Legislative Correspondent

Alyssa Wang
Legislative Correspondent

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Erik Kamrath
Legislative Correspondent

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Nick Russell
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Carla McGarvey
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Carla McGarvey
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Abby Tinsley
Legislative Assistant

Erik Kamrath
Legislative Correspondent

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Abby Tinsley
Legislative Assistant

Erik Kamrath
Legislative Correspondent

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Danny Hague
Legislative Correspondent

Matt Williams
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Alicia Tighe
Legislative Assistant

Alyssa Wang
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Gun Issues

Treon Glenn
Legislative Assistant

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Health

Corey Malmgren
Health Legislative Assistant

Taleen Mekhdjavakian
Legislative Correspondent

Alyssa Wang
Legislative Correspondent

Homeland Security

Dan Hurd
Coast Guard Fellow

Housing

Treon Glenn
Legislative Assistant

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Human Rights

Treon Glenn
Legislative Assistant

Mohsin Syed
Legislative Counsel

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Immigration

Matt Williams
Legislative Assistant

Intelligence

Matt Williams
Legislative Assistant

Judiciary

Mohsin Syed
Legislative Counsel

Taleen Mekhdjavakian
Legislative Correspondent

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Labor

Alicia Tighe
Legislative Assistant

Alyssa Wang
Legislative Correspondent

Medicare

Corey Malmgren
Health Legislative Assistant

Alyssa Wang
Legislative Correspondent

Military

Danny Hague
Legislative Correspondent

Bale Dalton
Military Legislative Assistant

Myron Chivis
Defense Fellow

National Security

Nick Russell
Deputy Legislative Director

Native Americans

Treon Glenn
Legislative Assistant

Erik Kamrath
Legislative Correspondent

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Small Business

Taleen Mekhdjavakian
Legislative Correspondent

Social Security

Alyssa Wang
Legislative Correspondent

Tax

Carla McGarvey
Legislative Director

Trade

Carla McGarvey
Legislative Director

Transportation

Nick Russell
Deputy Legislative Director

Veterans

Danny Hague
Legislative Correspondent

Bale Dalton
Military Legislative Assistant

Women

Treon Glenn
Legislative Assistant

Naveed Jazayeri
Legislative Correspondent

Election Results

2012 GENERAL
Bill Nelson
Votes: 4,523,451
Percent: 55.23%
Connie Mack
Votes: 3,458,267
Percent: 42.23%
2012 PRIMARY
Bill Nelson
Votes: 690,112
Percent: 78.8%
Glen Burkett
Votes: 185,629
Percent: 21.2%
2006 GENERAL
Bill Nelson
Votes: 2,890,548
Percent: 60.0%
Katherine Harris
Votes: 1,826,127
Percent: 38.0%
2006 PRIMARY
Bill Nelson
Unopposed
Prior Winning Percentages
2006 (60%); 2000 (51%); House: 1988 (61%); 1986 (73%); 1984 (61%); 1982 (71%); 1980 (70%); 1978 (61%)

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